Jonny Henchman on how to master the panning shot, a key technique in the F1 photographer’s arsenal.
Motorsport photography can usually be grouped into two arbitrary categories, documentary and creative. Documentary style usually involves a pin sharp, crisp shot with the whole subject in focus using a high shutter speed and a fast f/stop (for shallow depth of field). While this is great for corporate advertising and certain types of editorial content, it often fails to impart the feeling of speed. Because of the high shutter speeds that are typically used, everything will be stopped dead, giving the impression that the subject was stationary when the image was captured. You really need to pay attention to the background with this type of photography as all the ugly sections of fences and blue porta-loos are going to be pretty obvious distractions in your images if you don’t.
Conversely, at the other end of the scale is the artistic ‘pan’ shot. This relies on using a low shutter speed i.e. the shutter stays open longer, and tracking the subject precisely so it remains sharp while the background blurs into streaks. Remember whichever style you opt for, the very best photographers focus on trying to capture and communicate the thrill and atmosphere of motorsport through their images, they don’t just take pictures of racing cars. While the panning technique is simple in principle it can be exceptionally difficult to master and requires a significant amount of practice to get consistently reliable results. The overall difficulty is influenced by a number of the following factors.